Chelsea vs Tottenham: Slow tempo, loss of shape and poor substitutions

All three traits will be all too familiar with Chelsea fans this season. However under Roberto Di Matteo’s very short tenure, that had seemed to change, but against Tottenham the signs of a poor game (not only for Chelsea but for neutrals) were there and quite evidently.

The football was slow from the off, both teams rarely threatened and when they did it was virtually out of nowhere, the only real chance of the first half coming with the last few kicks of the ball as Chelsea in thanks to Cech, Cole and some poor Tottenham finishing managed to keep the ball out. Chelsea seemed to struggle to use the width of the pitch and a lack of movement up front resulted in severe congestion in the middle. There were times when the front five of the Chelsea team were lined up horizontally offering no support to those on the ball. It is inevitable when Juan Mata fails to get a footing in the game, the tempo of the other Chelsea players is far slower.

The team for the first time looked incredibly uncomfortable playing the 4-2-3-1 formation, with the players not particularly sure of their positioning as both Ramires and Sturridge drifted into the middle far too frequently and the full backs didn’t do enough to stretch the Tottenham defence. This was only amplified when the surprising substitution of removing Michael Essien for Fernando Torres. Essien is no longer the explosive force of years gone by but he was having a solid game defending the back four and muscling the Tottenham midfield off the ball any time they ran his way. What resulted from the substitution was Torres taking Ramires’ spot wide right and continuing the trait of Chelsea wingers drifting inside at every opportunity and Ramires dropped back to partner Frank Lampard, the issue is that in the two man pivot role, the midfielders need to contest aerially and protect the back four, neither of these are particular strengths of the Brazilian, in fact Tottenham threatened much more as soon as Essien departed as there was plenty of space to exploit behind Lampard and Ramires. Chelsea seemed to lose all shape after the substitution with the front three all playing centrally and the game began to pass Ramires and Lampard by.

It wasn’t only the Torres substitution that didn’t seemed to work. The decision to bring David Luiz at half time in place of Jose Bosingwa had little effect. I’m one of Luiz’s biggest admirers, but he is a centre back and claims that he might be better suited to playing at right back due to his attacking nature, surely should now be forgotten. After a similar 45 minutes when he replaced Ivanovic against Stoke, he once again struggled in dealing with runs down the left and exposed a lot of space in behind him, going forward he definitely puts in a better final ball than Bosingwa but again he is unsure as to how far forward he should get when the team is in possession of the ball. The Torres substitution which I thought should be made but not for Essien had little impact on the game and resulted in a poorer performance as explained previously. Finally he decision to bring on Salomon Kalou for Daniel Sturridge, again I thought it was the right move to introduce either Kalou or Malouda but it should’ve been made earlier, it is rare to have a sub make an impact with only a few minutes left in the game and Kalou struggled to get into the game.

Performance wise, Cahill and Terry were excellent in the game, with the former making a goal clearance of his own to dent Tottenham. It looks like Chelsea have three very talented centre backs and all three pairings have performed well together when called upon. Petr Cech had another great game in between the goal posts and marked his 250th appearance for the club in the league with a clean sheet. A brilliant achievement for the goalkeeper having moved to Stamford Bridge almost eight years ago and at only 29 years, he has the potential to play a few more. Ashley Cole once again provided a goal line clearance and was solid defensively but offered very little in attack on this occasion. The less said about the performances in midfield and attack is probably better, the only real chances coming from a Juan Mata free kick and the Spaniard also had a chance to score after an incredible touch to bring the ball down in the box but unfortunately his footing gave way. Both Sturridge and Drogba tended to be wasteful in possession.

It was a disappointing result given that the as poor as the performance was, Tottenham rarely threatened themselves. Modric wasn’t as effective as he has been in previous matches and Gareth Bale seems out of place in this new free role he has been granted. The draw leaves Chelsea five points behind fourth place Tottenham with eight games to play, the blues will need to win pretty much every game from here on out to make the final Champions League spot, although the more likely scenario will be winning the Champions League itself.

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